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Book Club: Hoppla, We're Alive!

With Drew Lichtenberg

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Book: Hoppla, We're Alive! by Ernst Toller

A landmark of the Weimar Republic, Ernst Toller's Hoppla, We're Alive! is one of the founding works of what would later be come to known as the epic theater and a powerful portrait of a fragile democracy at war with itself, inevitably corrupted from within by the rising forces of capitalism and fascism. Karl Thomas, a participant in the failed Soviet-style revolutions of 1918, has spent the past eight years in a mental hospital. Released into the Germany of 1927, Karl Thomas encounters each of his former comrades in a world where all of the lessons of the first world war and the revolution seem to have been forgotten. Building to a powerful and tragic climax, Toller's play has lost none of its power to shock, provoke, and awaken readers. (Description: Barnes and Noble).

The Author

Ernst Toller was born into a German-assimilated Jewish family in 1893 in modern-day Poland. In 1914 he volunteered for the German army. Wounded at the front, he experienced a physical and psychological breakdown, and was briefly committed to an asylum. He later embraced revolutionary socialism and became a left-wing politician and revolutionary as a member of the Bavarian Soviet Republic of 1919. After the revolution was put down, Toller was arrested, found guilty of treason, and sentenced to five years in prison.

While incarcerated from 1920 to 1925, Toller wrote a series of plays that gave form to the new movement of Expressionism in the theater and seemed to speak for an entire generation of antiwar Germans. Shortly after his release, he started working with Erwin Piscator, a director whose political radicalism led to his own dismissal from the Volksbühne. Hoppla, wir leben! was the inaugural production of the resulting “Piscatorbühne” (Piscator Stage) in September of 1927.

Toller’s plays were among those burned at Bebelplatz Square on May 6, 1933, and he went into exile after the Nazis came to power. On May 22, 1939, Toller was found dead of an apparent suicide in his room at the Mayflower Hotel on Central Park West.

Our Guest

Headshot Drew Lichtenberg

Drew Lichtenberg is Resident Dramaturg at Shakespeare Theatre Company in Washington, D.C. He received his Doctorate of Fine Arts in Dramaturgy and Dramatic Criticism from David Geffen School of Drama at Yale University and is a current or former adjunct faculty member at Yale, Eugene Lang College at the New School, and the Catholic University of America. He has worked as a freelance dramaturg, adaptor, and translator on Broadway, at the Royal National Theatre in London, and at theatres around the country, including the New York Shakespeare Festival, Yale Rep, the McCarter Theatre Center at Princeton University, Woolly Mammoth Theatre Company, Oregon Shakespeare Festival, Baltimore Center Stage, and many others.

He is the author of two monographs including The Piscatorbühne Century: Aesthetics and Politics in the Modern Theater after 1927, which is available through Routledge. His writing has also appeared in Theater, Theatre Journal, Contemporary Theatre Review, and Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts, and he has lectured at cultural institutions and various universities such as the Goethe Institut, the Alliance Française, Carnegie Mellon University, and the Kennedy Center.

In 2019, this translation of Hoppla, We’re Alive! premiered at La Mama Experimental Theatre Club in downtown New York, directed by his New School colleague Zishan Ugurlu. It was the play’s New York premiere. We look forward to having him join us.

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